From Endurance to Dressage
We all know that Izzy is not an easy horse. He lacks confidence and is suspicious of anything new or different. I don't mind. I do all the showing I want with Speedy, so I don't feel any pressure with Izzy. I just keep working on whatever he needs on any given day.
If you've been following along for any length of time, you know all about our bitting issue. Quick recap if you're new: I started him in a lozenge snaffle which worked fine until it didn't. Moved on to several ported bits that Izzy loved but that weren't legal dressage bits. Experimented with a legal bit that offered lots of tongue relief, but no control. When it seemed as though he was done with all of the jackassery, I finally decided to use the legal bit exclusively.
I wish I could say that the switch to the legal bit went without a hitch. It did not. You would have thought that I was starting over completely. Izzy's world simply fell apart. When he broke his headstall, I bought a new one never imagining that I would have to remind him how to be bridled. He knew it was new and different, and since he doesn't do new and different, he refused to be bridled. It took some patience and a few days, but he once again takes the bridle without any fussing.
Bridling wasn't the only fight. With the legal bit, I have very little control, and Izzy figured that out quickly. We went from a long and stretchy back to a super short back with a tendency to bolt, again.
Izzy brought out all of his old tricks: Balking, bolting, rearing, stiff jaw, running through my aids, and so on. Fortunately, I've seen all of these tricks before and know how to work through them.
When he started balking, which leads to rearing, I brought out my whip and went to town. Every time he even thought about slamming on the brakes, I whacked him with the whip until he agreed to go forward. That's not always guaranteed to work though. One day, he decided to rear after I whacked him. As I was yanking his head to the side, my whip got hung up in my reins. As I struggled to free it, Izzy had a bit of a meltdown, and I experienced a very serous Oh, crap! moment. No one was injured though, and Izzy has since rethought the rearing thing.
When the balking and rearing didn't work, Izzy decided to try bolting at random moments. We would be walking along quite nicely with a drape in my reins when all of a sudden he would launch forward into a bolt. Jerk! I worked him through that by using the pulley halt. I simply planted the knuckles of one hand into his mane and halted with the other. I sent him forward and then halted. Repeatedly. Many times. Eventually, he quit bolting.
I am happy to report that a month later, we seem to be back in business. We still have at least one Come Meet Jesus moment during our rides, but I've finally convinced him that I still have control with this bit and that the rules have not changed. During our last couple of rides, I've been able to ask for a lengthened stride, and I am getting more moments where he is asking to stretch down again.
While I find it a bit frustrating that he is so incredibly sensitive to change, I am happy that he is willing to be talked off the ledge. Like I told my chiropractor the other day, it's not like I have anything better to do. And besides, I kind of like the big jerk.
Who is this horse, and what have you done with Izzy?
I know as soon as I write about how freaking awesome this horse is becoming he'll turn into a jerk, but I can't help it. Every day that I get on him, his back gets softer with more swing. On Sunday, he felt ten feet tall and fifteen feet long. He was sighing, grunting, snorting, and flopping his ears towards me at every stride.
He is so happy in his work that I am able to try something new every day. His leg yields are getting nicely rhythmical. His haunches in are so much better than Speedy's (sorry, Dude, but it's true). He can do most of the counter canter work from Second Level; I haven't asked for the three loop serpentine yet because I don't want to shake his confidence.
We've also been able to play around with a trot lengthening. His back has been so tight that I couldn't get a regular length of stride. To even be able to play around with lengthening the stride is huge progress.
I don't have a show plan for him yet, but I am thinking about it. There's a lot I'd have to work on before we're ready to try showing again, namely getting him into the legal bit again. That I am even thinking about it shows how much progress he's making.
As I clap my hands in glee, I am so thankful that I didn't sell him. If he never makes it to a show, it will be okay as he is so much fun to ride. I am looking forward to seeing how much more he can do!
I am sure you can guess for who. If you said Izzy, you'd be right. Everything I do with him these days is to help him stretch over his back. If you've been following our little journey, I am sure you've rolled you eyes at least a million times wondering why I haven't done this or that to help him stretch down. Believe me. We've tried this and we've tried that. This horse just wasn't ready or willing to trust what we had to say.
Not long ago, an acquaintance said something like oh, he's got your number. I am too polite for an audible WTF?, but inside, it was accompanied by a very arched eyebrow. Whatever - it wasn't worth my time to clear up her confusion.
When I mentioned the comment to my trainer, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, she laughed. It might look that way to someone on the outside, but that isn't what's going on at all. Even when Chemaine has ridden him, he's given her a hard time. Anyone who has actually seen me ride him through the jackassery knows that I am not afraid of him. This horse has just been a tough nut to crack. I like to call him my Verdades.
I am not saying that a more knowledgeable rider (maybe Laura Graves has some free time?) couldn't have gotten him squared away a lot quicker than I have because that would be a lie. He and I have had to do a lot of learning on the fly. Even though he has demonstrated that he can be a real jackass, I've learned something new each time I've been in the saddle.
After more than two years of trying this and that, we finally tried something that made the stretch down clear to him. It ruffled the feathers of some, but it worked like a charm for Izzy. It was the over flexion exercise, and I still use it (bend him to the inside and then use the outside rein for vertical flexion until he asks to stretch down). Most of the time, simply getting the inside flexion is all I need to do before he asks to stretch down.
But that's not the exercise I wanted to share. He's learned that stretching down feels good. Now we're working on suppling his back even more so that he can take a longer, deeper stride. Here's how it goes.
On a 20-meter circle, we do a shoulder in. At first, I go around two or three times. it depends how quickly he lets go. Then, we do a haunches in on the same circle, again going around several times. As he gets looser through his back, I might do half the circle in shoulder in and the second half in haunches in.
For the next part of the exercise, I ask for a counter shoulder in which is shoulder in to the outside of the circle. Like before, I go around a couple of times until I feel him relaxing. Then we do renvers (haunches out) for a few circles. Like before, I gradually switch back and forth from counter shoulder in to renvers.
And then it's time to check. I straighten him and ask for a stretch down while also asking for a longer stride. If he'll give it to me, great. If not, we repeat the shoulder in/travers and counter shoulder in/renvers until he finally asks to stretch down.
After just a week or two of doing this exercise, Izzy's back is getting looser and his stride is steadily getting longer. There was no magic bullet. It wasn't just this or just that. It was this and that over and over and over again for several years. I am so glad I stuck it out. I am having a blast riding this horse, and I know he's much happier now that he knows how to stretch down and relax.
The real trick is just time. Good thing we have a lot of it.
I don't have any great new photos or media to share to prove it, but oh my, is that big brown horse ever coming along!
I keep track of what I do each day at the barn. On my calendar, I note who I rode and for how long. I also jot down whether it was a good ride or whether someone had a bad day. I was looking back over my calendar for the past few months and noted that Izzy has boatloads of stars and smiley faces next to his name.
When I get on him now, he starts out sighing and snorting as his ears flop from side to side. Most days I have to boot him a bit to convince him that yes, I genuinely would like a trot.
From the first step we take, I ask for a stretch down. We stretch down at the walk, and then we stretch down at the trot. And now that he can, I insist on it all the time. He no longer trots around with a hollow back. His back has suppled up so much that he is physically able to stretch.
Now that his back is looser, we're tackling his stride length. It's not pretty, but I am asking for more, more, more at every stride. He now stays soft in the bridle as I ask that inside hind leg to step deeper and farther. We don't have that longer stride yet, but it's coming.
The canter is also getting more balanced. As with Speedy, I am starting to insist that he step into the canter with his hind end instead of launching forward with his face. We can now do lots of trot/canter transitions without him panicking and charging through my hands.
I have a pretty full show calendar planned out this year for Speedy. so there isn't any room for Izzy. He still has some tension issues to deal with anyway. I have my eye on next year though. If he keeps improving at the rate he's going, we might have a decent chance to be successful at a show.
Horses though ... they love to surprise us!
Facebook has been reminding me of what Izzy and I were doing last year at this time. We were still regular riders on the struggle bus, but the good moments were coming more frequently. We could pick up the canter going both directions and the shenanigans were happening less and less. We put in a lot of miles over the summer, and by fall, things were really starting to come together.
I don't think I've had a bad ride on Izzy since before Christmas. The last real doozy of a ride that I can remember was the first time I got on him after being so sick last fall. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, rode him the next day, and they had a come to Jesus kind of ride. Since then though, our rides have all been really productive.
When I rode on Sunday, he was so rideable that I was throwing in some of the elements from Second Level. We picked up the counter canter, did some canter to walk transitions - those are effortless for him, shoulder in, and the 10-meter half circles. I still can't get his stride to lengthen, but his back is definitely getter looser.
One thing that really helps his back to let go is the leg yield, especially when I insist on a BIG move over. We did a few of them in each direction. All of a sudden, he gave a leg yield that was huge, balanced, and absolutely effortless. There is no doubt in my mind that it would have scored a 10! I have never ridden a leg yield that felt like that.
This boy is so talented. If I keep working on him, I'm going to have a second star in my barn. Look out, Speedy G. Izzy's on his way!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read